It’s been four years now since we made a resolution, in an icy car park of a budget Manchester hotel, to drive less.
Eighteen months later, we’d sold our car – to see if we could live by hiring cars when we needed them, rather than owning one.
So how have we got on? I’ve written a few times about it so won’t go over old ground, but now that we’ve had two full calendar years without owning a car, I thought it’d be interesting to compare 2012 to 2013. What changed year on year? And why might that be?
As I’ve suggested before, it wasn’t really about the money. It was mainly an environmental decision – an attempt to reduce our family’s carbon footprint. But it was also about the money to a certain extent – particularly once we started using the car less, and saw it sat on the drive, slowly depreciating. So how much has it cost to not own a car?
These are the headline figures. In 2012, our travel costs (as a family of 3) totalled £4661. In 2013, that dropped to £3260 – a saving of £1401. So that’s a drop year-on-year of 30%.
In both years, car costs (mainly car hire and fuel) made up the majority of our travel costs. In 2012, we spent £2518 on cars and fuel – and in 2013 we spent £1809. That’s a reduction of just over £700 – a 28% drop.
Other costs dropped year on year too. In 2012 we spent £1331 on buses – and £912 in 2013 – a drop of £420 (or 32%). Meanwhile we spent £335 less on trains (£205 compared to £540) whilst the only thing we spent more on in 2013 was cycling – up from £163 to £273. Taxis made up the last bit of spending – £120 in 2012, and dropping by half to £57 in 2013.
So £1400 less spent in 2013 compared to 2012. Why? In short, we’ve adapted to not owning a car. We were pretty quick to hire in those early months – particularly at weekends. But slowly we changed how we got around. My son’s birthday is a good example. In the first year we hired a car to get to his party, carry his cake, bring his presents back. In the second year we got the bus – and – now that most of his friends’ parents know we don’t have a car – we got a lift back. £60 or so saved. One car fewer on the road.
Overall, in 2012 we hired a car 20 times – for a total of 96 days – the equivalent of around 1 day in 4. In 2013 we hired twelve times – for a total of 73 days – the equivalent of 1 day in 5. So around a 20% drop year on year – and as this graph suggests – car use was nearly all about school holidays – plus weekends away.
The other main change year on year was switching more short journeys to my bike. I bought a bike through the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative Cycle To Work scheme – which meant I paid around £25 a month during 2013 out of my gross pay for a new bike. My cycling really picked up when Leeds Empties moved to new offices in Cross Green in the summer – as the daily commute is a perfect length for cycling – 5 miles – half an hour. So the amount I spent on bus fares reduced – as (to a certain extent) did my waistline.
I’ll write more over the next couple of weeks about how things have changed – and why we hope we’ll never go back to owning a car. But I suppose the main point I’d like to make is that I think what we’ve done (which I totally accept not everyone is in a position to do) wasn’t about a sudden, dramatic change. It was about steady, sustained changes in behaviour – bit by bit changing how we got around, so that eventually we were in a position to try to live without owning a car.
It’s been 18 months now since we sold our car. It took a while for us to adapt, but if feels normal now. Except not owning a car is anything but normal. 3 out of 4 households in the UK have a car – 1 in 3 has two or more cars. Two-thirds of the journeys we make are made in a car, compared to 2% of journeys by bike. (All statistics from the National Travel Survey).
As I’ve said many times, not owning a car isn’t really an option for a lot of people, just like it wasn’t a particularly viable option for us for a number of years. Having said that, keeping track of what we’ve spent over the last 18 months, and how things have changed over that time, does make me wonder whether more of us could manage without owning a car – or at the very least, without a second car.
The key issue for me is ownership. Why own a car if it’s as convenient – or moreso – to hire one when you need one? Or share one with others? There are times when only a car will do – but that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to own it. And how might things change if fewer of us chose to own cars? Here are a few thoughts on how things have changed for us:
We can easily compare the real cost of each mode of transport. When you own a car, a lot of the costs are annualised, one-off costs – insurance, MOT, etc. They’re the same whether you travel 10,000 miles or 2,000. Similarly, you may well have already paid for your car – or the monthly loan cost is the same whether you drive every day or just once a week.
But when you hire a car, you’re paying the real cost of that particular journey. So when we go to see family in Manchester for the weekend it’ll cost us £50 to hire a car. Which suddenly makes the train look quite a good option. Result – whereas when we owned a car we’d have never considered public transport – we often do now. And that’s one car fewer on the M62….
When we need a car, we get the car we need. If we’re going on a camping holiday, we get a big estate car to fit everything in. If we’re just running errands round Leeds, we’ll get a little car. How many of us drive cars that are too big for what we need on a daily basis – just because every couple of weeks – and a couple of times of year for holidays – we need a big car to fit everyone and everything in? Having access to a range of cars – instead of owning just one – means you get the car you need. And if what you often need is a small car, then it saves you money on petrol – and is better for the environment too.
We walk and cycle more. It sounds like a bit of a cliche, but it’s true. Nationally, 1 in 5 car journeys are under 2 miles. For us, that’s the distance to the local shops and back. Previously, we might well have jumped in the car. But now the car’s not on the drive (in fact it’s at the shops). So we walk, or get the bus, or cycle. It takes a bit longer, but not that long. And the exercise does us good.
We’ve noticed the difference most with our 7 year old son. Of course he moans sometimes. Why do we have to walk? But I can honestly say that most of the time he doesn’t even mention it. It’s just the norm now to step out of the front door, and walk. Which links into the next thing that’s changed….
We do more stuff locally. Again, it sounds like a bit of cliche. But it’s true. We shop more in local shops because they’re the ones that are most convenient. And yes, there’ll be times when we’re paying more than if we went to the big supermarket that’s now not that handy. But if I’m going to spend a bit more money, I’d rather do that locally. And I feel better about where I live because I’m a regular here, here, here, here and most importantly here.
(By the way I keep reading stuff that says pedestrians and cyclists are better for local businesses – because they shop more often – I’d certainly say that’s been the case with us.)
Not owning a car has saved us money. As I’ve said before, getting rid of the car was mainly an environmental choice, backed up by a more vague desire to live a little differently. But I was interested in the impact on our bank balance too. So I’ve been keeping track of what we’ve been spending – and how that’s changed over time.
I wrote more about it here – but to bring you right up to date here’s what we’ve spent in 5 months in 2013. Overall we’ve spent £1050 on travel – including £432 on car hire and fuel. That compares with £1736 in the same five months in 2012 – including £895 on cars. So year on year our travel costs have dropped by 40% – and car costs have dropped by 52%. That’s a big saving….
Why have we spent so much less? Basically, because bit by bit we’ve changed how we live. We’re spending less on cars because we hire cars less. Where we might have hired a car for a weekend to do a few things around Leeds, we’re more likely to get the bus. And as I suggested earlier we’re more likely to do more stuff locally. My son’s default request now is to go to the local park – where we now know local kids. Which means he wants to go more – and we need a car less….
So they’re a few reasons why I’m glad we got rid of our car. I think it’s done us good – and it gets me wondering how the city I live in – Leeds – might change for the better if more of us did the same. Might our roads be less gridlocked? Might our streets be more friendly? Might our local shops be more busy? And might we get a bit nearer to that 40% CO2 reduction that we keep telling ourselves we’re going to achieve by 2020?